On Social Media

Social media: online platforms that supposedly enhance our social lives, making us feel more connected to other people and places. I know that the virtual world certainly has its benefits; it lets us keep in touch with people, and to come across new people (I was lucky enough to first meet one of my closest friends through Tumblr) and new perspectives. Through online networks, we can also come by inspiration for various things (a word of advice here: Pinterest is indisputably the one for room decor inspo).

That being said, however, personally, I have found that whenever I am feeling particularly dissatisfied or mentally uneasy, I notice that there has been a spike in my social media activity (or, rather, inactivity, when I am scrolling aimlessly through my Instagram newsfeed). Granted, the direction of causation is unclear here: do I attempt to purge my sorrows by looking at aesthetically pleasing pictures of books, buildings, and beautiful things … or does the virtual realm actively contribute to my sense of sadness? Perhaps the answer to this is a more circular one, and an increasing number of us find ourselves trapped in the vicious cycle of the lofty expectations and subsequent dissatisfaction that social apps can impose on us.

You may have already heard about the shocking finding that receiving ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ on social media typically has psychological and physiological effects that parallel those of heroin consumption. Social media, our digital drug, has utterly consumed us. Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr… the logos of these social media giants are plastered all over shop windows and tourist attractions. Many of us use them for hours on end, every single day.

Recently, numerous celebrities and other avid social media users have posted about their love-hate struggles with their digital lives. Many have taken the decision to dispose of their accounts altogether; many others have resorted to undertaking lengthy social media hiatuses.

As well as the plethora of mental health issues that can arise from or be worsened by the overconsumption of digital content, it could be argued that the epidemic of social media warps our reality, and replaces it with a falsified ‘Insta-reality’: our experiences are commodified, made as ‘picture-perfect’ as possible, in order to be shared online. It could also be argued that the online element only adds to our perceptions of reality: we naturally enjoy relaying our thoughts and experiences to others (often in a rather filtered way). Does it really matter if what is being said is conveyed through our screens in lieu of our facial expressions, voices, and physical proximity?

When analysing the effects of social media, it is easy to fall into the trap – that great human bias of ours – of looking at the past through rose-tinted spectacles, and at the present through a lens of mistrust. Life must have been sweeter back then – and interpersonal relationships more soulful or romantic – when our means of communication were limited to face-to-face interactions, and beautifully handwritten letters. In truth, this probably wasn’t the case: humans have always been great narcissists, nosy parkers, perfectionists, procrastinators, and so on. Social media simply provides a digital stage onto which the best (and worst) elements of the human condition can be projected.

Another crucial question to be asked: is there really a solid line that delineates between our ‘in-real-life’ and online selves? The postmodernist view is that the distinction between media and reality has become (irreversibly) blurred. ‘Real life’, surely, is a product of our experiences – whatever we see, touch, feel, smell, taste, and, most crucially, think. Our realities depend on the manner in which we process the things around us – including the things we see online. But what detracts from whatever claims to authenticity social media might have is its often very ‘filtered’ nature. People are very particular with what they post online: streams of glamorous and ‘aesthetic’ posts can lead to – and has led to – the development of the view that anything that is ‘ordinary’, mundane, commonplace, and messy, is substandard.

However, it is true that the issue of the selective presentation of ourselves exists offline too: people are also rather selective with which thoughts they allow themselves to translate into physical behaviour and speech. We are inherently prone to filtering ourselves – so perhaps, instead of being a threat to our fundamental collective human nature, social media is a direct product of it.

Ultimately, it would be rather ignorant and small-minded of me to claim that the effect of social media is only detrimental to us: there are certainly benefits to increased connectivity. But these online platforms have exacerbated certain negative conditions – FOMO (fear of missing out), jealousy, feelings of dissatisfaction and inadequacy, issues with body image, and more. Social media exposes us more to the world – both its good sides, and its darker sides.

But the most alarming aspect of the whole debate, in my view, is the fact that social media has become a drug to which many of us find ourselves helpelessly addicted. And, just like any other drug, people need increasingly large doses of social media to sustain their addictions. In fact, withdrawal symptoms are often experienced in its absence. And often, instead of ‘living in the moment’, we find ourselves responding to cognitive itches by obsessively and anxiously picking up our phones, unfathomably desperate to know what others are doing, or how we are being perceived by them, or which shade of lipstick Kylie Jenner has chosen to wear today.

My ambivalent ramblings towards social media conclude themselves here: everything that is good, is good in moderation. And sometimes, in order to recharge yourself, you must first unplug yourself from the often deceptive and all-consuming world of social media.


Sadia Ahmed, 2018

To our future selves,

Trigger warning: this article features a lot of sentences that begin with the words “I hope…”

We probably don’t have everything figured out yet. When we were younger, we were always under the impression that the messiness of our minds would somehow morph into the butterfly of ‘adulthood’ someday. But adulthood doesn’t suddenly appear as a messianic figure or a profound realisation: we will never have everything figured out, and life will always be a little bit messy. 

I hope we have developed the strength and courage to accept and be ourselves, even in the face of intolerance or adversity. As the cliche saying goes, happiness comes from within. I hope that we have finally come to accept our flaws, and to understand that we are not any more flawed than anybody else: we are simply more exposed to our own faults and perceived inadequacies. Confidence is key in life, even if we ‘fake it’ at first. We lay out the foundations for how other people perceive us and treat us, and when we truly accept and love ourselves, beautiful things happen, and life feels more ‘right’.

I cannot hope that our lives are now problem-free; problems are an integral part of the human condition. But I hope that we take the time to realise that we can overcome these obstacles, just as we have overcome every other obstacle we have faced. But even when life is riddled with problems and stress, things can still be framed in a positive manner. Excessive ‘positivity’ isn’t helpful nor maintanable, but the ability to reframe our circumstances certainly is. I know that we will still have our bad days, but I hope that even on these days, we give ourselves the patience and care that we deserve. 

I hope that we are free to fully embrace our own styles – that our clothes are comfortable and (mostly) reflective of who we are, and that our homes are truly our ‘homes’, where we feel most at ease. I hope that we are surrounded by mutual love – oceans of it. 

I hope we never give in to the pressure of being ‘cool’, especially at the expense of being our true selves. We are messy, imperfect, a bit crap at times, but that is okay. It is better to be real than to be popular, and the loudest voices are not necessarily the best ones. I hope that we don’t base our self-worth on the approval of others or our abilities to conform to their expectations and stereotypes, moulding ourselves to fit into boxes for others’ comfort. I hope that we are living for ourselves, instead. I hope that we accept help and advice from others, but not to the extent where others’ opinions of ourselves supersede and dictate our own.

I hope that, as adults, we are grateful for the blessings in our lives – for our journeys to wherever we may be now, for the people who are currently in our lives, the people we once knew and perhaps still love, and for the people we are yet to meet. I hope we are grateful for the smaller things, like the smell of coffee in the morning, the splendour of the city at night, and the laughter of our children (or of our friends’ children, depending on the paths we choose to take).

I hope that life is full of travel, little (and big) spontaneous adventures, and beautiful moments that we try to capture in photographs and pictures, but find that we simply can’t. I hope that these moments take us by surprise and that we find ourselves lost in different places and with different people, as we try to find ourselves.

Most of all, I hope that we are living fulfilling lives – not necessarily the most lavish or ‘Instagrammable’ ones. I hope that our own small worlds are filled with both structure and unpredictability – and with love, laughter, and, of course, good food. I hope that we accept that we are just as deserving of peace, contentment and joy as anybody else and that we have the same right as anybody else to exist just as we are, wherever we may be. I hope we’re not too harsh on ourselves, and don’t feel the need to prove anything to anybody but ourselves, and that we don’t compare ourselves to (our perceptions of) others.

Finally, I hope that we make peace with ourselves and our pasts, and accept that aiming for perfection will always be futile. I hope that we are living medium lives (not too ‘small’ and private or idle, nor too ‘big’ and public or robot-workaholic-y) and ‘in the moment’ more. I hope we know that we are doing just fine, and that our past selves would be proud of us. 

From,

17-year-old me.